Newspaper logo  
   Why the 'Drug War' is Racist


Why the ‘Drug War’ is Racist

by Jacob G. Hornberger

Clearly, we must eliminate the racist consequences of our ‘war on drugs.’ But since our elected leaders appear unable to do this, we should eliminate the ‘war’ altogether.

It’s all fine and good that Trent Lott is no longer Senate majority as a result of his praise for Strom Thurmond’s 1948 race for President, in which Thurmond endorsed segregation. It’s also fine and good that Lott’s fellow members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, overwhelmingly condemned his racial insensitivity and elected Bill Frist in his stead.

But given that Congress is filled with people who condemn racism, why is it that most of them continue to embrace and support the most racist government program since segregation—the war on drugs?

Consider the following statistics published by the Drug Policy Alliance (

  • Blacks constitute 13 percent of all drug users—but 35 percent of those arrested for drug possession, 55 percent of persons convicted, and 74 percent of people sent to prison.

  • The rate of drug admissions to state prison for black men is 13 times greater than the rate for white men.

  • In 1986, before the enactment of federal mandatory minimum sentencing for crack-cocaine offenses, the average federal drug sentence for African-Americans was 11 percent higher than for whites. Four years later, the average federal drug sentence for African-Americans was 49 percent higher

  • Rates of drug use or drug selling are no greater for members of minorities than for nonminorities, yet minorities are stopped, searched, arrested, prosecuted, and incarcerated at far greater rates than whites.

  • Persons of color are typically sentenced to longer jail and prison terms than white counterparts convicted of identical offenses.

  • Felony disfranchisement laws have resulted in the disfranchisement of 1.4 million African-American men, or 13 percent of the African-American adult male population—a rate that is seven times the national average.
Or consider how the drug war was used to go after African-Americans in Tulia, Texas, which has been the subject of a series of scathing editorials by Bob Herbert of the New York Times. In 1999, drug-war law-enforcement officers swarmed into the black sections of that community and arrested more than 10 percent of the town’s African-American population.

They didn’t find drugs but that didn’t stop the prosecutions. The government had the testimony of a single undercover police officer, who had often referred to blacks as “n*ggers” and who claimed to have bought drugs from the defendants.

On the basis of his uncorroborated testimony, a black hog farmer named Joe Moore, who is in his late 50s, was sentenced to 90 years in prison. Kareem White, a 26-year-old black man, got 60 years. His sister Kizzie, 25, was luckier—she got only 25 years in prison. Cash Love, a white man who fathered one of Kizzie’s children, was sentenced to more than 300 years.

Hey, why fret about losing segregation when you can just use the drug war to remove blacks entirely from a city and relocate them to a penitentiary hundreds of miles away, possibly for the rest of their lives? And it’s all legal, just like segregation.

A Telling Contrast

We might compare the sentences that the blacks of Tulia received to the treatment that has been accorded to President Bush’s niece (Gov. Jeb Bush’s daughter), Noelle Bush. She first received a jail sentence of three days for possession of prescription drugs that were taken from a medicine cabinet in a nurse’s office. She then tried using a falsified prescription for Zanax, an antiaxiety drug, and the same judge sentenced her to 10 more days in jail. While that charge was pending, Noelle was caught at her drug rehab center with what was allegedly crack cocaine but she wasn’t prosecuted because another Florida judge ruled that a federal law protecting a drug treatment patient’s privacy outweighs the interests of the war on drugs.

So what’s the solution to the racist consequences of the war on drugs? Is it the standard one that congressmen use with respect to failed government programs: “The system needs reform”?

If so, then the obvious question arises: Why haven’t the (nonracist) members of Congress reformed the drug war to eliminate its racist consequences? There can be only one answer: It can’t be reformed—because if it could have been, the (nonracist) members of Congress would have already done so.

Given the manifest failure of the drug war to achieve its purported goals after several decades of warfare, and given the inability of the Congress to eliminate the racist consequences of the drug war, there is one—and only one—solution to racism in the drug war: Forget about reforming the war on drugs and instead end it.

Mr. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation ( in Fairfax, Va.

Copyright © 2003 The Baltimore Chronicle and The Sentinel. All rights reserved. We invite your comments, criticisms and suggestions.

Republication or redistribution of Baltimore Chronicle and Sentinel content is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.

This story was published on March 5, 2003.
MARCH 2003
3/5 Sports: Death of a Prospect: Steve Bechler, 1979-2003
3/5 ‘Treatment, Not Prison’ Says MD Budget Study
3/5 Environmental Crisis Center Struggles
3/5 Funding for Legal Services for the Poor In Jeopardy
3/5 Court Clarifies Procedures of ‘Victims’ Rights’ Laws
3/5 Local Assistant Principal Gets National Honor
3/5 State’s Unemployment Benefits Among Lowest
3/5 100K Trash Cans for the City
3/18 Letters
 3/21Open Letter to The Sun
 3/19An Open Letter to Americans from a Concerned German
  3/5 Another Open Letter To America from a Canadian
  3/11 Open Letter to President Bush
  3/11 Open Letter to Maryland's Senators
  3/12 An Open Letter from Veterans for Peace and Military Families To Maryland's Senators and Congresspersons
  3/12 Open Letter to the "Major Media" Cohorts of the "Chicken Hawk" White House Agenda
3/5Book: Cash for Blood Details City’s Sorry Slavery History
3/5Book: Painful Questions Dares to Address 9/11
3/5Best Films of 2002: ‘The Pianist’ and ‘Rings’ Towers’
3/5Book: No Better Time to Read No Greater Threat
3/5Book: Bio of Miles Davis Distills His Genius
3/5Quotes: Philosophical Musings
3/5Words of Wisdom from James Madison
3/5Where’s the Media Coverage of ‘Patriot II’?
3/5Liberal Talk Show Set to Provide Alternative to Limbaugh
3/28 EDITORIAL: MD Legislators Consider Stealth Anti-Small Business Taxes
3/19 Progressive and Neo-Conservative Journalists Face Off on Iraq
3/5Where Are Our ‘Commons’ for Free Speech?
3/5Blizzard of ’03: Will Bush Listen to Cold Questions?
3/5Why the ‘Drug War’ is Racist
3/5What Would You Do If You Saw Your Nation Going Fascist?
3/5Why Haven’t I Done More to Oppose War in Iraq?
3/5Viewpoint from Europe: What Went Wrong?
3/5 WV ‘Mountaintop Removal’ Alarms Environmentalists
3/5On Asbestosis, Health Insurance, & Union Work
3/28 Republicans defeat conflict of interest amendments to Procurement Bill, including one prohibiting chemical and biological weapons sales
3/13 The Administration Plays "Russian Roulette" With Our Economy
3/5 “L’affaire Chavez”: Larry Birns on How Venezuela Can Avoid Civil War
3/5 US Must Budget Enough for States’ Security Needs
3/5 The Real American Taliban
3/5 It’s Okay to Eat Belgian Chocolate
3/5 Right Livelihood Awards
3/5 ‘Death Tax’ Deception
3/5 Quick Political Scholastic Aptitude Test
3/5 “The Righteous War”
  Websites We Like!
  Outstanding Analysis & Perspective

Public Service Ads: